OMAHA, Neb. (AP)—To his dismay, Xavier coach Sean Miller’s pregame premonition was right Saturday night.
His starters missed their first 13 shots, the Musketeers shot 28.6 percent in the first half and Creighton never trailed while handing No. 24 Xavier its first loss in five games, 73-67.
“I thought we took the court tonight as a team that didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Miller said. “In order to beat a good Creighton team in an environment like this, you’ve got to take the court expecting to win. We played tonight unlike we’ve played the first eight games. Confidence is something that’s really hard to coach.”
Xavier (7-2), which moved into the Top 25 this week for the first time since the 2002-03 season, couldn’t come back after falling behind by as many as 15 points before a Qwest Center crowd of 15,872, the largest to attend a basketball game in Nebraska.
“I give Creighton tremendous credit. They’re a very difficult team to play against at home,” Miller said. “When you look at their history, it’s a tough place to walk in and win.”
Anthony Tolliver scored 17 points and Creighton (4-2) used a strong defensive effort that held Xavier to 40.4-percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers.
Nate Funk added 15 points and Dane Watts had 10 rebounds for the Bluejays.
Drew Lavender had 13 points, Stanley Burrell 12 and Justin Doellman 10 for the Musketeers, who were playing their first true road game.
Tolliver’s 3-pointer and Nick Porter’s steal and layup highlighted a 9-2 run that gave the Bluejays a 43-28 lead early in the second half.
“A lot of games are decided in the first 4 minutes of each half,” Funk said. “We set the tempo both halves and came out aggressive right from the start.”
Xavier, which missed nine of their first 10 3-point attempts, hit three of four from long range to stay in the game. It was 52-48 after Burrell hit consecutive 3s and Doellman made a jumper from the wing.
The Bluejays stopped the 20-9 Xavier run when Funk picked up a tipped ball and drove in for a layup to make it a six-point game with 7 1/2 minutes left.
Josh Duncan’s 3 pulled the Musketeers to 59-53, but Xavier could get no closer until Tolliver committed his fifth foul with 36 seconds left and Justin Cage made one free throw to make it 66-61.
Xavier, which shot 50 percent or better in four straight games, went more than 5 minutes without a field goal at the start of the game.
“We’re a better team than we showed,” Lavender said. “We played hard, then we didn’t play hard, then we played hard. We have to play hard for 40 minutes.”
The Musketeers missed 13 of their first 15 shots and Creighton’s defense fueled a 10-0 run that put the Bluejays up 19-8.
Isacc Miles had two steals, Watts drew a charge from Duncan and Ty Morrison and Tolliver blocked consecutive shots. Tolliver had five points, including a three-point play, and Nick Bahe hit a 3 during the spurt.
Watts made a 3 while falling, Nick Bahe put back a miss by Tolliver and the Bluejays led 34-26 at halftime.
“We had a deer-in-the-headlights look, and it’s tough to rally back on the road after a 20-minute performance like that on offense,” Miller said. “Their defense, or our lack of offense, was the difference in the game.”
For Creighton, it was a good bounceback after a 60-54 loss at Dayton. The Bluejays were No. 19 in the preseason poll but have not matched expectations.
“We haven’t been as competitive as our past teams have been, so from that standpoint, there was a sense of urgency to get something going,” Creighton coach Dana Altman said. “We talked to the players about being more aggressive. Their effort tonight, and competitiveness, was what I liked.”